by Keri Allan

Edge computing gathers momentum in the Middle East

Jan 19, 2021
Edge Computing Internet of Things IT Strategy

Interest in edge computing is growing across the Middle East as organisations look to reduce network latency and optimise costs, and governments build smart cities.

CIO | Middle East  >  Saudi Arabia  >  Riyadh  >  Cityscape / skyline / Kingdom Tower
Credit: Hans Musa / Getty Images

Interest in edge computing is growing across the Middle East as organisations look to improve productivity gains, data insights and application speeds. 

Edge computing is an architectural concept for distributed computing in which data is processed and stored at the edge of a network, outside a central location or data centre, close to where people and devices are actually generating or using  information.

Advantages include reduction of latency that exists between central data centre servers and geographically distant users and applications, and cost optimisation that results in reducing the amount of data that needs to be transmitted, processed and storied at a central site.

IoT growth accelerates edge computing

The growth of IoT — the internet of things, essentially a network of connected devices that collect information and provide a stream of data that can be analysed and acted on — has spurred the growth of edge computing. Enterprises are launching IoT applications including a wide variety of connected and remote operations, predictive analytics and preventative maintenance.

Still a nascent technology in the Middle East, analysts say they are seeing the number of inquiries around edge computing rise. Smart cities, for example, make use of IoT and edge computing to manage services for residents.

Though government throughout the Middle East are starting to build smart cities — Saudi Arabia’s Neom is a prime example — analysts also note however that they don’t expect usage to accelerate broadly for a number of years. This is because the Gulf region has been a late adopter of advanced technologies compared to the West and Asian countries like Japan and Singapore, and organisations are still in the process of consolidating existing data centres and moving to the cloud.

“The region is still at the conceptual level (when it comes to edge computing); right now we’re spending our time educating businesses about the technology and what it can offer them,” says Santhosh Rao, senior director at Gartner. “It will take at least two years for enterprises to realise that not everything should be in the cloud or a data centre, plus as 5G gets rolled out across the region this will enable many more distributed computing use cases.”

Even so, there are many businesses that are already investing in edge computing or plan to shortly. Over a quarter (28%) of organisations in the GCC countries (UAE, Oman and Kuwait) have informed analyst firm IDC that they are planning to invest, while an Aruba report recently highlighted that 61% of IT leaders in UAE are actively using edge technologies to deliver new outcomes. Furthermore, 86% described their need for an integrated system to handle data at the edge as very, or somewhat urgent.

Who are the early adopters?

 All sectors can benefit from edge computing; however, some are poised to make more gains than others. Businesses and services — including services run by smart cities — that would suffer badly from unplanned downtime, are spread across remote locations and occupy large geographical areas will be the early adaptors, notes Harish Dunakhe, IDC research director, software and cloud.

Unsurprisingly then, analysts and vendors cite oil and gas, retail and manufacturing as some of the sectors leading the charge.

Middle East faces barriers to adoption

In order to realise true business value from edge technologies, the region still has several hurdles to overcome. This includes the lack of high-speed bandwidth such as 5G, and also security concerns around edge computing. Over half (66%) of Aruba’s respondents stated that connecting devices at the edge had, or would make their business more vulnerable.

One of the biggest challenges though, is the regional skills shortage. The majority (96%) of IT decision makers Aruba surveyed reported missing key skills to unlock the true value of data; in particular AI and machine learning, risk management and information security and analytics skills.

“The IT landscape here is still outsourcing-centric, which will cause challenges,” says Rao. “Skillsets will be a problem; enterprises will be looking for devops engineers, algorithm designers, embedded systems engineers…all rare commodities in the region ­– we’re only just picking up cloud skills now.”

How to start exploring edge computing 

 Even though the path to the edge may appear bumpy, adoption is inevitable due to the rate organisations across the Gulf are creating data. And support is out there – hyperscalers and vendors such as Microsoft, AWS, IBM, Oracle and SAP are already working with their ecosystem of partners and clients to create proof of value and proof of concept for edge computing across the region.

For those CIOs interesting in investing in edge technology, Dunakhe advices they start by identifying the business need. “Is it to reduce delays in customer service, fix serious maintenance issues in oil refineries located in remote locations or the manufacturing plans that need to be managed using robotics? Study how edge computing will impact the financial parameters such as topline growth, cost reduction through improvements in efficiency or enhancing the customer experience.”

He goes on to note that while you can short-circuit the path to technology implementation, the creation of tech-savvy work culture is an organic process and necessary to really benefit from edge computing. “Identify your organisation’s technology maturity, create the necessary architecture, ground IT infrastructure and network backbone. Assess the skills and capabilities of your people,” he concludes.

CIOs can also start moving on a path to see how edge computing may benefit their businesses by educating senior leadership on related technology shifts and what they mean for the wider organisation, says Ziad Youssef, vice president of Secure Power, MEA, at Schneider Electric. Find your allies, he says, proactively address concerns, and build your business case with other C-level executives.

“It’s the early adopters that will benefit the most, and a CIO who moves fast will deliver the most value for their organisation,” he concludes.